Bank of America protests anything but selfish

Alex Kaufman | Class of 2013

I have been surprised by the responses written in response to a Green Action protest, an event authors perceived as embarrassing and harmful to student’s “career interests.” As a recent graduate, I am not proud to have attended the same institution which has produced such an unthinking and hypocritical response to an act of social protest.

How is it possible that student authors, whose Facebook profiles boast pictures of international travel and internships at high-profile financial companies, think they are being victimized? Especially upsetting is that the supposed aggressors are students who have dedicated time and effort to combating the greatest economic and social threat ever faced by humankind: climate change. The authors’ view is a perspective which underlies the root of enormous social problems including climate change and growing inequality, one of unchecked self-interest and a disregard for the problems to which one contributes. According to such an ideology, higher education is just a stepping stone to personal achievement. One of the claims made in a September 19th editorial, that “students have dedicated years of study in an effort to secure such a job,” shows just such a belief, a view that that personal gain, like landing a high status banking job, comes before responsibility to society and consideration of others.

Further disregard for the hardships of others comes through in a claim that it is “grueling” and “extremely difficult” to get the very jobs companies are actively recruiting students for. Perhaps the authors are totally unaware that 7 percent of adults seeking work in the United States can find no employment at all. Being in that 7 percent could, roughly, be considered “extremely difficult.” Instead of feeling outraged at their own career speed bumps, perhaps these students could get angry about the serious injustice and, in many cases, fraud, perpetrated by the very banks they wish to work for. But in the narrow view presented in the editorial, it appears difficult circumstances and social injustice are only worth getting upset about if there is a direct impact on the student’s own interests.

The editorials attacking the student protests demonstrate a complete lack of awareness of student privilege, but also reveal the truth about many of the wealthy, over-privileged students who attend the business school and other undergraduate schools at Washington University: they are out to get themselves even further ahead, not to help others or improve the world around them. That two of these students would have the gall to accuse people who take action on the behalf of others of being “selfish and attention-seeking” reveals a total lack of critical awareness and an apathy toward their own privilege, and makes me embarrassed for the them and for our school.

  • Jerome Bauer

    Furthermore: watch out for hotheads and even agent provocateurs on both sids of the police line. Let cooler heads always prevail.

    How about a decoy at every action to waste the agent provocateur’s time until the cops show up? I had to improvise that role once. It was a lot of fun. Please feel free to ask me about it sometime, offline. Sorry but I don’t believe in internet security culture and neither should you, except as a joke.

    Winning a popularity contest is overrated. I’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt, so I should know. If you ever find yourself with near universal popularity, spend your social capital on a good cause before somebody puts you on a donkey and a crowd starts waving the palm frond. We know that old story and what happens next.

    Chancellor Wrighton, are you paying attention?

  • Noone

    As an alum working in the energy/natural resources group at an investment bank, I really don’t see the point of the protest. There is no way you are going to change anything at the bank-level given the amounts of money at stake. The idea that we are going to turn down clients because they are not “green enough” is delusional. Instead of messing with a fellow students future, you guys should maybe protest the company responsible for the actual environmental damage.

    Like many others, I didn’t go to college to become Mother Teresa. Stop it with this “Save the world” and “privilege” nonsense.

  • Jerome Bauer

    I thought I had said all I wanted to say about this in comments on previous articles, but now I must say that ad hominem attacks seldom advance an argument. Technically mst of it is not ad hominem, because fell commentators are using their real names.

    A few more points:

    Police, and private security guards, should always be trained in First Amendment issues, and activists should always be trained in deescalation tactics. This is especially important when noise is made.

    A good working relationship with the police need not always involve sacrifice of the element of tactical surprise.

    “Diversity of tactics” is code for putting a brick through a window, in the opinion of veteran St Louis civil rights activist Percy Green, speaking at the half year anniversay of Occupy, at Occupy the Midwest. Isn’t it better to have maturity of tactics?

    Direct democracy is not necessarily incompatible with representative democracy.

    • Jerome Bauer

      Here’s more: civil disobedience is by definition illegal and if you do it you may go to jail.

      “Civil disobedience is a great American tradition” I heard the late Vice Chancellor Jim McLeod tell the 2005 Living Wage strikers inside the occupied Admissions Office, though as honored invited guests of the University, technically we were not committing civil disobedience, at least not until the Trustees ordered everybody out, after having threatened retaliation against faculty supporters. That was when 450 supporters turned up on half a days notice when called by Jobs with Justice to form a human shield and risk arrest.

      Ritually “taking arrest” or “risking arrest” may be an effective tactic and a good activist resume builder but should neither be glorified nor trivialized. Every direct action entails risk of arrest.

      Nobody was expelled though they all had to write an essay on civil disobedience as a great American tradition and pay a small fine to repaint and clean up the office. However, some students were kept under constant surveillance until graduation. Two Lecturers were fired despite student protest and several hundred faculty signers of a solidarity pledge.

      Internet security culture should always be played as the joke it is. Never put anything online that you would not put on a post card. It’s best to use a typewriter or a pencil, or just talk face to face.

      All this is important because nobody should get hurt, though there is never any guarantee of that.

  • grammarnaz

    There’s a typo in the last sentence. #copyedits

  • DownWithApathy

    After four years at Wash U, one of the things about the school that really disappointed me was the culture of political apathy. I find it telling that the negative response to the recent protests was not an argument for or an explanation of the actions of Bank of America regarding environmental impact, but an embarrassed rolling of the eyes and an abashed attitude begging us to sweep our opinions under the rug. Our hush-up culture, in which students are encouraged to keep our opinions to ourselves, our heads down, and our voices disengaged, leads to nothing more than the perpetuation of the problems that consensus dictates we should fix. So speak out! Let your opinion be known! Protests and public voice is what keeps are nation going forward, whether it be MLK Jr. and the civil rights movement, the current protests in North Carolina, the occupy movement, or the thousands recently outside the supreme court representing all sides of the political spectrum.

    One author commenting on an different article in Stud Life on the same topic asked “Is there anything more privileged than “activism” and pretending to be a martyr for a cause with childish stunts?” I agree. We are incredible privileged. We live in a country with freedom of speech where a group of students can express their views without fear of recrimination, backlash, or exile, which is a privilege unimaginable in so many societies throughout history. So lets use it. Those who disagree with this protest, please argue against our thoughts, not our actions. Find fault with our beliefs, not our willingness to express them. But do not suggest that we are naive or immature for believing that peaceful protest has the power to change the course of American Democracy. In many ways, it is the only thing that ever has.

  • BSBA ’14

    While I respect the motivation for the protest, isn’t there a better way to protest than to hurt the job chances of fellow WashU students? If you want to hurt BofA, petition to get their branch off campus. If you don’t want WashU students to work for them, spread the word about BofA’s coal funding and alternative green-er employers. What it comes down to is that it’s up to the students who they want to work for. You may disagree with their decision, but it isn’t fair to take it away from them.

    As a side note: As a future financial analyst, I’d actually be really interested in knowing the environmental reputations of potential employers. This stuff does matter to applicants. Just learn how to present it properly.

  • notbankofamerica

    yeezus christ,the greatest injustice in all of this is this writer’s lack of logically reasoned out arguments

  • WashUBME

    Wow. Easy with the personal attacks there, bub. You really come off as piece of s— in this article. The authors of the previous article, whom you berated extensively made valid points and shared the views of many here at Wash U. A protest like the one that took place accomplish nothing towards accomplishing the environmental goals of the group, and just harmed other students. I suggest you stop trying to force your views onto everything because you are convinced you know what is best for everyone in the world. The authors had just as much right to complain in a non-disruptive, respectful way as the original protesters had to do what they did, if not more, without being subjected to personal attacks.

    I think you should move to Europe.

    • WashUBME

      Whoops. Lots of typos. Whatever, you get the point.

  • realist

    Regardless of the arguments for or against Bank of America and their business practices, the protest showed an extreme disrespect for the students who decided to attend this information session for legitimate reasons. How would the protesters feel if other students were to protest against their movement DURING one of their information sessions? Additionally, what would such a protest even accomplish? The belief that interrupting an information session for five minutes will have any definite impact on the business practices at Bank of America or on the practices of the mining companies that they finance is delusional at best. In reality, it will only result in the release of a few incredibly biased Stud Life articles and op-eds, all of which will inevitably be devoid of any counter-argument.

    I actually sympathize with some of the concerns that the protesters have, but come on, trying to get their point across by fake coughing themselves to the ground? Get real. Political causes achieve legitimacy by focusing on the fundamentals of the problem that they wish to solve, not by playing charades in front of a bunch of optimistic, job-seeking undergrads. If the protesters actually wish to do something concrete, they’ll have to address the counters to their claims, of which there are many, and they might actually have to debate and fight for their cause instead of cowardly interrupting an information session.

  • anarcho literalist

    A fine sentiment, albeit completely devoid of expository value for those of us just tuning in. What’s going on, anyway?
    And yes, unfortunately this piece is very poorly written. I mean very, very poorly. I wish I weren’t too lazy to put it another way.
    But while it is one thing to submit a poorly written letter, it is another thing to publish such a letter as is. I daresay nobody ought to be ‘proud’ to go to school with a bunch of nascent bankers or near-bankers, or those types (that is easy enough). Nor, however, ought we to be proud of a school where any random student out of a crowd may or very well may not be quite literate as we (basically literate people) might like. I, for one, look rather gloomily on that state of affairs as well.

  • John Golightly

    Well needed opinion voiced in this article. I’m surprised to see so much disdain towards this perspective. Seems that the action brought a lot of the trolls out from the woodwork.

  • Walter White

    Lol, you mad bro?

  • Jon

    I was really excited to read this article as I agree that what occurred was blown out of proportion. However, this is very poorly written and embarrassing to read.

  • anonymous


  • Cameron Ubel

    “Especially upsetting is that the supposed aggressors are students who have dedicated time and effort to combating the greatest economic and social threat ever faced by humankind: climate change.”

    This is laughable. The fact that the author of this article thinks that “climate change” is the greatest social threat faced by humankind is astounding. What about slavery? What about the holocaust? What about Stalin and Mao? What about Osama Bin Laden? I would take climate change over these any day. The author also brings up the 7 percent of the population that cannot find jobs. Many of these lost jobs can be attributed to the green movement sucking money out of the coal and oil industries and encouraging worthless investments into green companies that fail.

    • oldman

      uh…eh…well….climate change is pretty effing bad my dude…

  • SpanishMajor

    this may be the most drivel i’ve ever seen compiled in four paragraphs. ad hominem much? every argument the protestors and their supporters have made boils down to two main points. 1) They feel that their opinions are more important/more worthy than the opinions of the other side and therefore have the right to express them wherever they feel. 2) Even though BofA and other banks are enterprises that are owned by the shareholders and debtholders of the firm, the protestors and supporters feel that they have the right to determine the actions and activities in which the companies wish to engage. If they want to change things, they should work through appropriate channels and get laws changed. LIberals respect diversity in everything but diversity of opinion. These shenanigans and the comments/articles I read are the best example i’ve ever seen of liberals and their refusal to accept any opinion that isn’t their own and need to impose their beliefs on others.

  • Anonymous

    meh, get over it.

  • Concerned Libertarian


  • Kait

    Hear hear!